Chris Nuttall Intel’s Moblin is Microsoft’s next big software rival

Intel, the world’s biggest chipmaker,  threw its weight this week behind a new version of an operating system – but it was not Windows 7.

That may come as some surprise to observers who have always put Intel in the Microsoft camp with their “Wintel” alliance.

But at its analyst day this week, Paul Otellini, chief executive, stressed that software was now a core competency for the company as it moved into other markets, and he pointed out that Intel was the second largest contributor to Linux open-source software.

In addition, Microsoft has so far failed to come up with an adequate response in operating-system terms to the rise in popularity of low-cost netbooks.

These small limited-feature laptops can struggle to run Vista and many manufacturers have offered Linux-based operating systems instead, or dual-boot options so users can opt for a faster-starting Linux OS rather than Windows.

Intel has dominated netbooks with its Atom microprocessor and, at the analyst day, it went into detail on improving the user experience on netbooks, principally through Moblin.

Version 2.0 of the Intel-backed Linux-based operating system will enter its beta-testing phase next week.

Renee James, general manager of Intel’s Software and Services group, told analysts it was designed to give users the “full internet experience” on netbooks and Mobile Internet Devices (Mids).

“Boot time is seven seconds, from the time you open the lid to the time you’re connected to the internet,” she said, describing it as a “snack-and-go” experience.

Novell and Intel recently announced a partnership to persuade netbook and Mid makers to adopt Moblin and Nokia has joined the party, working on the telephony stack (Renee James said this would be a big piece for how Intel moved Atom into the phone market.)

Intel has also acquired OpenedHand, a leading handset user-experience company.

So it seems clear that Intel’s attempt at an operating system and its applications for it will challenge Microsoft from Windows Mobile for smartphones to Windows 7 for laptops.

Ms James described custom Linux operating systems for each device as “the old way” and Moblin 2.0 for Atom as the standard operating environment for the future.

So far, Microsoft has been happy to have Intel Inside with its processors. The thought of Intel being everywhere in software will be far less palatable.